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The Story of Sidney Weinberg

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Do you sometimes think circumstances are very bad and your luck has run out? Here is an example of an extremely poor man who through his energy and hard work made a big success of himself in the world of investing and finance.

Sidney Weinberg became Managing Partner of Goldman Sachs in 1930, when he saved it from bankruptcy, and led it till 1969 when it was one of the most powerful investment banks in the US.

Weinberg grew up poor near New York, the third of eleven children.

Always enterprising:

  • Weinberg sold newspapers at a New York boat terminal at age ten.
  • At thirteen he became a delivery boy for a broking company.
  • At sixteen, there was a banking crisis, and Weinberg realized there was money to be made just waiting in line outside the Trust Company of America, which was rumored to be on the verge of insolvency. He would wake up early and be at the front of the line, and then sell his spot in the queue for USD 5 to an anxious depositor eager to reach the teller’s window soon after the bank opened at ten.
  • Once the banking crisis was over, Weinberg needed regular work and he went to the tallest building nearby, 43 Exchange Place in New York, thinking that somebody there would have a job for him. Weinberg started on the top, 25 the floor, and then walked down floor by floor asking each office for employment. He had to try twenty-three floors before he came to the Goldman Sachs office where the chief clerk hired him as an assistant porter.

Sixty-two years in one firm – from Janitor to CEO

Weinberg spent his entire working career, sixty-two years, in Goldman Sachs.

  • The first job was menial work, cleaning the firm’s cuspidors (a spittoon made for spitting out tobacco that was chewed) and brushing the Goldman Sachs manager’ hats.
  • He rose to office boy, filling the partners’ inkwells (they had inkwells for use in pens in those days!).
  • One day he had to deliver a package to the home of one of the founder’s (Sam Sach’s) son, Paul. Paul Sachs and he started talking and Paul Sachs was so taken in by Weinberg’s energy and intelligence that he gave him USD 25 and told him to do a part time finance course at New York University. He also promoted Weinberg to the mailroom where letters were sorted and delivered to the Goldman Sachs managers.
  • Weinberg helped reorganized the mail room making it more efficient and was then made in charge of the mail room.

Then came World War I and Weinberg joined the US Navy as a cook! He was never shy of doing whatever it takes to contribute.

After World War I, he rejoined Goldman Sachs, this time as a salesman.

  • “By dint of hard work, a remarkable talent for friendship, and terrific business instincts, he rose up through the ranks to make partner in 1927” said one of the partners.
  • He saved Goldman Sachs from bankruptcy 1927 and became Senior Partner in 1930.
  • He was strategic and was able to see trends in the US economy, from the bottom up. He positioned Goldman Sachs to take full advantage of the business upswing after the great depression.
  • Weinberg became not only extremely wealthy (for some years he obtained a third of all of Goldman Sachs’s profits) but he was a confidant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and one of Weinberg’s sons, John Weinberg headed Goldman Sachs from 1976 to 1990.

This is the story of one of the great financiers ever. He never hesitated to do any job, was always enterprising and worked very hard. His example can help us all as we navigate in our present difficult times.

– Kai Taraporevala

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